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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


August 20, 1996

Pete Gober 605-224-8693
Sharon Rose 303-236-7905

More Endangered Black-Footed Ferrets Born in the Wild in Montana and South Dakota

Ongoing surveys brought good news today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of 12 litters of black-footed ferrets born in the wild in Montana and South Dakota. Ongoing monitoring activities conducted by biologists with Montana s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, South Dakota s Game, Fish and Parks Department, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service resulted in discovery of a minimum of 12 litters of young born in the wild this year at Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana and the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Biologists estimate seven litters in Montana and five in South Dakota with about two kits per litter for a total of around 12 young at each site. This is the first year that females, previously born in the wild themselves, are known to have produced their own young. This observation is encouraging since wildlife biologists believe that the more natural an environment that a kit is exposed to during its early development, the more likely it will survive to reproduce.

The pattern for the reestablishment of any species in the wild follows what we have seen with ferrets, said Wilbur Ladd, Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Regional Director responsible for the ferret recovery program. Some efforts work better than others and once some start to work, they can really take off, he said. We are hopeful that ongoing efforts continue to succeed, Ladd added.

The black-footed ferret is believed to be extinct in the wild except for reintroduced populations. Reintroduction efforts have taken place in Wyoming (1991-1994), Montana (1994-1996), South Dakota (1994-1996), and recently in Arizona (1996). Although the Wyoming effort has been seriously hindered by disease problems, the Montana and South Dakota efforts appear to be gaining momentum and the Arizona release is also beginning to show promise.

The black-footed ferret is a weasel-like animal, with a long, slender yellowish- brown body with short legs, rounded ears, and buttonlike eyes. Its best known feature is a black face mask and black feet. The tip of its tail is black in contrast to nearly white fur near the face. The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct until 1981 when a small population was discovered in Wyoming. Disease reduced it to a point that it was necessary for wildlife officials to remove the surviving animals and place them into a captive breeding effort that eventually produced animals for reintroduction. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department was a leader in this effort and was later joined by six zoos including the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Omaha s Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, Louisville Zoological Garden in Kentucky, Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Park in Colorado, Phoenix Zoo in Arizona, and the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo.

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